Body Image and Standards of Beauty

“Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
This quote from an age-old fairy tale strikes the most common notion of beauty at its core. In this question, the antagonist, the witch, defines beauty in her comparison to others. As in the fairy tale, the question in real life isn’t “Am I beautiful?” It’s almost always “Am I beautiful compared to others?” or “Am I more attractive/desirable than others?” In other words, beauty/attractiveness is most often defined by our culture and sustained by envy or covetousness of others. Think about it, why are advertisements for various products so effective? They almost always appeal to an image that is held by our culture as ideal. We covet after an image; we want to be like that “beautiful” girl or that “manly” guy. If we purchase the product they are selling or wear the clothes they are wearing, perhaps we will be as desirable as they are.

The same is true for physical ideals of beauty and body image. We can instantly imagine the stereotypically beautiful people of our culture. If not, look no further than the toys children are given to play with, like Barbie and Ken. Yet, the standards of physical beauty implied by these images are not universal standards, nor are there any. Over time and across cultures, people have established various standards of beauty: small feet, plump women, tall skinny men, medium height muscular men, pointy teeth, large noses, the list goes on. Many people go to great lengths to conform to the culture’s standards of beauty, from unhealthy dieting to plastic surgery (this is becoming wide scale on a global level), yet doing so is vanity. It is primarily motivated by envy of others, rather than out of contentedness and thankfulness for how God made us, or out of any true standards of beauty.

The standards of our culture are unhealthy and over sexualized, and trying to obtain them can be part of a vicious cycle. There is freedom in caring more about what God thinks than what other people think. True beauty comes from inward confidence. Confidence is related to knowing who you are in Christ and being content with who you are; godliness with contentment is great gain. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that its not important to take care of yourself, to eat healthy, to exercise, and to get sunshine, but don’t do these things to conform to an ideal image — do these things to be healthy, then look however you will. One of the biggest health focuses for many is losing weight. Yet, while losing weight can be an important part of good health, beware of extremes or impure motives that can put a damper on your joy. Research has shown that it’s possible to weigh far more than the standards established by our culture and yet have an athletic level of health. Let the pursuit of physical health be for the sake of living a full life, not for the sake of vanity or out of insecurity and envy. Focus on modesty and establish an inward beauty or attractiveness, rather than superficial outward beauty. Have freedom by not conforming to the standards of this world but by being transformed by the renewing of your mind, by changing the way you think about beauty.

Originally posted 2012-02-27 16:30:00.

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